'Just' is a belittling word…

A shutter-pressing, page-turning, ink-scrawling comment.

Month: November, 2013

My Sunday Interview with…Natasha Hemsley

Earlier this year, fine art photographer Natasha Hemsley entered The Grand Prix de la Découverte International Fine Art Photography competition and came second in her category. Currently embarking on a new project in collaboration with myself, we had plenty of time to catch up about the competition, her work and her much-loved Scanograms…


RG: How did the competition come about?

NH: As an artist, putting yourself out there is extremely important for getting your work recognised and as I had just finished my first major body of work, Death’s Diary, I decided to do something more with it. Google is a wonderful tool…so I used that, literally just typing ‘fine art international photography competition’ and this one came up. That’s how it came about.

RG: What was the process like?

NH: It was quite simple at first: you just had to submit your image, title and the money, of course, to enter the competition. The judges just looked at the photos; they didn’t look at anything else, just the image itself. After that they told me I was in the next level, the next round, the top ten of the category, so to speak, and then they judged all those and I came second within the Still Life category. By this point I had submitted my image as a full sized jpeg and they also asked me to send in a print which was a little bigger than A2 in size. I did that via theprintspace in London because their Fuji Matt C-types are the best at producing the blacks in my photographs. I just love the blacks you get with Scanograms. I love dark things, things in the dark, in the night. It’s important to my work. I had it framed and it was exhibited in the Expo Centre in Paris.

Second Place winning image in the Still Life category

Second Place winning image in the Still Life category

RG: Did you attend a winner’s reception or such like?

NH: Yes, there was a prize giving held at the Centre but there was also a champagne reception held at the American Centre, just opposite the Eiffel Tower, across the bridge.

RG: How did you feel knowing you had come second in your category within an international competition, your photograph being exhibited in another country?

NH: I felt quite professional, although I felt nervous at the same time because it’s a foreign country. However, it is very close to home, being France, so it wasn’t complicated to get there and I went with my mum which helped as she can speak a little French.


RG: Do you have more planned for your series?

NH: I’m hoping to try and exhibit them again to get them out there a bit more and I’d love to remake my publication, which I completed for a university project, as well, with more images which should be interesting. I don’t think Death’s Diary is ever going to end. As long as my cat keeps catching, I’m going to keep documenting.


RG: Can you tell my readers a little about the project we are working on together at the moment?

NH: Well, it’s not got a name at the moment but the idea is enough for now. We are going out at night time, in the pitch black, looking for road kill and photographing it in its liminal state between life and death. Whether we are photographing for the animal’s sake, for remembrance or for prolonging it’s time in this life though it has passed on, I don’t know. It’s important knowing when to photograph and when to let go.

I have a quote from Henri Cartier-Bresson on my website that sums it up quite nicely, “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

RG: For this project you’re using a camera. How have you found going back to the traditional form of photography compared to the scanner you use for your Death’s Diary project?

NH: It’s quite a jump because with Scanograms you’re making the image with your own hands, in a way. You’re positioning the animal on the scanner so it’s very tactile, using your hands, and it’s quite personal, whereas with this other project, I’m not touching anything, in a sense. I’m pressing the shutter, changing the aperture and shutter speeds to get the exposure I want but the scene is staying as it is, as we found it, which is quite new to me. I’m not making the image, the image is there for me to capture.

RG: What is it about the cameraless that you are drawn to?

NH: I was inspired by the Shadowcatchers exhibition at the V&A a couple of years ago. It was fascinating how they made these beautiful images and yet there is no camera involved, no pressing of a shutter. I think it is quite a creative process and it is about artistic as I could get without picking up a paint brush. Some of my other works are Chemigrams which is quite painterly. In a way, you’re painting with chemicals rather than light. I rather enjoy that. It’s a different process, I suppose, it’s unique and I enjoy trying out new things and experimenting a lot.

RG: My topical question for you is following along a similar theme to the question I asked Sayuri Webster in my last Sunday Interview. Since recently having exhibited in Paris in print form, do you think we will see the day when the exhibition print as we know it (hanging on a gallery wall, a physical document) becomes null and the photo book becomes void?

NH: No, I don’t think so. The exhibition is important in the short term but the book is a permanent engraving. They work hand in hand.

RG: Short and sweet. Thank you very much for your time, congratulations on your second place victory and I’m very excited to hear that Death’s Diary is set to continue for a while yet!


For more of Natasha’s images, visit her website: http://www.natashahemsley.co.uk


Don’t forget that another interview will be heading your way next Sunday – double bill!


Nostalgias (exhibition) and Nostalgias: Visual Longing (conference)

First job: coffee for the team as they get on with the hang. We look at each other. We see how it is. No problem, doing what I’m told is what I do best; a result of trying to be the ‘good’ child at home and a fear of getting a telling off either by my parents or teachers. With a little time to spare as Sam and Monica needed to personally perform the condition checks on the artworks waiting to adorn the walls of the Pie Factory, three of us went for breakfast (myself, dear Gemma and Legoman Lewis – if you haven’t seen his work, it is simply brilliant, you need to take a look: http://www.lewisgroom.com/). We spoke about futures, food, Thanet and, of course, the conference. And so it began…

The day was wet and windy. A shop around the corner was allowing us to borrow some tables and stools in order to show a particular piece of work (the beautifully embossed map boxes of Chu YinHua). We got wet. I was very interested to meet sensory map artist Kate MacLean after seeing her work in The Collected at the Sidney Cooper. Such fun. It went quickly and we were home again before we knew it.

Eight days later, we parked at the Winter Gardens and walked along the seafront amongst spraying rain to the station. On the way, Gemma’s shoe started to flap. Yes, flap. The sole of her right shoe was coming away quite badly; indeed it was worse than she had anticipated. I couldn’t help but laugh and I couldn’t help but laugh even harder when she proceeded to take out the tape she had been using to keep a bandage in place on her right hand (where it had collided with a glass vase a few days before) and wrapped it around the nose of her shoe. Her hand and foot matched; I found that highly amusing.

We were to meet weary travellers and show them to the minibus waiting outside which would take them to their hotel. Wearing t-shirts over our coats and jumpers so the correct people could spot us, we looked slightly as if we were from a charity (we each had a list of names too, and pens at the ready), so we noticed wary looks from some passengers whereas others avoided us altogether. Shortly after arrival, Gemma had to disappear to the ladies in order to clean herself up. We don’t know how it happened…well, we do…or when but the pigeon stuck inside the ticket hall had meticulous aim…

To pass the time, we had a go with a new app Gemma had acquired. A game similar to HedBanz and Articulate, you put the phone up to your forehead and depending on the category, the onlookers have to describe the film, imitate the accent, act like an animal and so on. Some of these categories we deemed unsuitable for public spaces. Three hours, eight trains and twelve delegates later, we got on the minibus ourselves and jumped out near the Turner in order to go to the Private View at the Pie Factory.

Scared of my clumsiness, I was proud of myself for not knocking any wine over the table or worse, on someone. Recognising some from the station, it was interesting to see the mix of people we would be spending the next two days around, listening and talking to. Welcome speeches by Brigitte Lardinois, followed by Monica Takvam and Sam Vale (the exhibition curators and conference organisers) were well received and most people moved onto the Greedy Cow around the corner for ‘the best burger around’.

Saturday 9th, we awoke to no hot water. The money on the gas meter had run out again; need I say #studentlife? With no time to quickly run to the shop to top up, we grumbled, I splashed cold water in my face and Gemma sought out her favourite hat to wear for the whole day…

Upon arrival, a very kind gentleman ushered us into the pleasing warmth of the Winter Gardens (having no gas also meant we had no heating and with my bedroom in the basement, and a crack in Gemma’s window, our bedrooms insist on being the coldest rooms in the house), showing us where the conference was to take place. Familiar faces greeted us there; the two Jenni’s, Jade and Sam and Monica. Picking up our name stickers, pastries and tea and coffee, we chose our seats and were raring to go.

The amount of notes I made this first day at the conference was, I think, impressive. It happened to be five minutes before the start that I thought I would write about the talks and papers for my blog post. At the end of the day, however, I knew this would be too much of a challenge and thought it would be a little different if I purely documented my experience with Nosalgias 2013. Hence…this.

Worried that I was going to be far too stupid to understand a word anyone said and also that I hadn’t had the best night’s sleep, I am proud to say that I listened to every talk and took almost everything in. The talks that appealed to me most and didn’t disappoint were those of Tim Wildschut (Saturday’s keynote), Menke and Müller, Hui Ying Kerr and Alison Gazzard. I also had a special interest in Meg Jackson’s talk on the discovered photographs of Manfred Beier’s Germany, East and West, since I studied German before coming to University, with post-war Germany being a major topic.

When lunch was served (I had sausage and mash), we sat with Menke, Müller and Christian Hviid Mortensen, discussing school uniforms and playing dominoes. At the end of the day, after it was Christian Hviid Mortensen’s turn to step onto the stage, and after Chris Pallant gave a wonderful response (I don’t know how he did it, so relevant and quickly understood, not to mention how he kept everyone interested and amused) a sparky debate escalated so rapidly, I began to wonder who would throw the first punch…

Mortensen had shown a film depicting scenes from the mourning of Kim Jong-il and his funeral, the speed of the clips increased, and put to the Benny Hill theme. He had shown it, as I understood it, as a comment on juxtapositioning and how sound and footage can jar and remove nostalgia. Some people, unsurprisingly, found this hard to watch and offensive, so when it came to questions, his motive behind showing the clip was questioned. With one person in the audience defending the showing of the clip and another struggling to see why it had to have been included, interrupting each other all the while, it was difficult to see how they were going to get along for the rest of the weekend…

However, upon going to the Walpole Bay Hotel for the conference dinner that night and standing in the bar area before we were seated, these two delegates walked in together, having an (as far as I could tell) amicable conversation, most graciously.

The dinner was lovely, the owner of the hotel personally seeing to our every need and the quiz a little bit of fun after an intellectually stimulating day.  Our team happened to win, nothing to do with one of the quiz masters being on our table, I’m sure. During the main course, our end of the table struck up a conversation about the familiar ‘photography as art’ debate; whether photography is or certainly cannot be perceived as an art. I couldn’t help but smile. This was the exact kind of thing I had imagined would happen and I relished the academic notions bouncing off the wine glasses. I was more or less in total agreement with Dr Shawn Sobers when he said it is of course subjective, but also depends on the discipline. For instance, although there is a little bit of art in all forms of photography, Fine Art is so completely different to Commercial photography that the art in Commercial could be hidden and unrecognisable. I loved to listen to them discuss this (Nancy Martha West, Sunday’s keynote, also contributed) and even proffered a point of my own; before there were cameras, there was the camera obscura, an aid to art, and consider how Henry Fox Talbot worked to invent his calotype process as he could not draw or paint satisfactorily. For him, at least, photography was art.

After a delicious raspberry cheesecake, we all waddled upstairs (I heard many comments about how much we had all just eaten), to share in more energetic conversations, fuelled by the thought-provoking day and the access to the bar. We also, as top quiz team, won a couple of bottles of champagne. It is times like these I wish I liked it when others are glad I don’t (‘I’ll have to have yours’ and ‘more for me’ are familiar phrases). This part of the evening was also highly enjoyable; catching up properly with graduate of my course Jenni, talking to our lecturers Rob and Karen, before getting up to leave only to get into a full-blown conversation with Manuel Menke, Philipp Müller and Hui Ying Kerr about her talk and her research. She also kept trying to leave, but the German gentlemen were skilled in delaying tactics, making jokes and discussing classic Englishness as seen in Germany (Dinner for One in particular), Hui Ying’s outfits and Benedict Cumberbatch (and after she finally escaped to bed, we stayed longer still discussing I don’t know what before moving outside, so close to leaving, and having a conversation about Game of Thrones).

We weren’t home too late, but considering my bed time is usually 10pm and I am not really an early morning person, I was very tired and needed to refuel for the next day.

Unfortunately, I didn’t refuel quite as deeply as I needed, meaning I had to really pinch myself in order to concentrate throughout the remaining talks. On the Sunday, I was helping out rather than just listening; handing out name stickers and conference packs, trying to answer any queries people had and letting people know the staff were trying to make the room warmer (for me it felt warm enough, but our house is like an ice cave sometimes so  suppose I am used to it).

Nancy Martha West’s keynote talk started the day off brilliantly, if not a little uneasily. The theme of the day was undoubtedly death and West’s talk was focusing on post-mortem photography. Her writing was luxurious, her delivery sympathetic and poignant and I gobbled up every word with an unusual yearning for her to go on and on, past the allotted forty minutes. Afterwards, people were discussing feelings of discomfort and tears threatening to fall, the photographs shown hard to look at and a sense of uncertainty as to how to react to them. Through all this, however, I imagine many people there would say that this was the most gripping, enticing talk of the weekend.

JP Kelly’s analysis of AMC’s Mad Men was intriguing and amusing, and both Jacqueline Butler and Sonya Robinson and the final speaker, Carol Mavor touched upon Lewis Carroll, with a delectable proficiently. Over lunch, Rosy Martin’s three films were screened as her talk was immediately afterwards. I couldn’t help but think how relevant it would have been for one of my peers and I must remember to send the link to Rosy’s website to her.

As quickly as it had begun, the weekend was over. I have not mentioned every speaker, but every single one was unique and interesting. Grateful to the bones for being able to be a part of it and knowing that as a team we took a little stress away from Sam and Monica, this is a weekend I don’t think I shall ever forget; from dominoes, to debates, to dinners and delegates. I cannot wait for a week’s time when everything has had a chance to sink in and embed itself and I envisage I will be thinking about nostalgia for a while to come.

N.B. Pub quizzers: The word nostalgia comes from nostos, meaning homecoming, and algos, meaning pain or ache and was a coined by a man called Johannes Hofer.

N.B. Those who wish to know more about nostalgia: you should’ve been there…

My Sunday Interview with … Sayuri Grace

Sayuri Grace has had a lifelong connection with Japan which has recently been epitomised through her latest project. Each photograph, both from the black and white series and the colour, has you wondering about the stories unfolding in view of the camera. Textured and contrasted, it is almost comparable to any immersive experience, where you are glued to the events surrounding the subjects and you feel like a part of what is going on. Sayuri kindly took a few minutes to talk to me about her project…

RG: What’s your relationship with Japan?

SG: I guess that’s an interesting question because I got my idea for my final project [for university] through thinking ‘Why have I got this thing that is always revolving around Japan?’ Everything I’ve done over the last couple of years has some relationship to it, without meaning too, subconsciously and I think it’s because I don’t know it. I don’t know Japan so I want to know because it’s a part of me. I learn slightly different parts and then my mum tells me something and I want to hear more. So, it’s becoming a thing; when there’s something you like and then can’t get enough of and then you have to find out more.

RG: Did your mum grow up in Japan?

SG: My mum has actually spent most of her life now in England, but she spent the first twenty years or so there. So it is where she grew up but she moved pretty quickly. She’s told me all about that. I have actually quite a few experiences with Japan in the sense that I’ve been every five years. That’s the interesting part, I guess. At 5, 10, 15, 20, I’ve been to Japan.

RG: So four times…

SG: Well, I technically went as a baby but I’m not going to count that *we chuckle*.

RG: Would you say using photography is a way for you to get to know the country and culture more intimately?

SG: I think it is really different to me, it’s part of me and then photography is the only way I can think of to show that I want this relationship, the only way that will reflect it. I’ve done that since I was younger as well and have been looking at photos always, but I never thought of photography in that way but now I do, so it’s a similar relationship I guess.

RG: When you were over there, you took an analogue camera with you and your series is shot wholly on film. Do you work mainly in analogue?

SG: Whenever I used digital, I never got a satisfaction from it, which is something like the main reason I like photography. You get a satisfaction when you get something good from it so I stayed with analogue. I did use digital alongside the black and white and colour films. Because of the way we organised the trip, I used a high ISO film, so we couldn’t get through the airport. On the way back I didn’t want to go through it all again because we had to go through all the crap and we went to this place to get it developed. So I found out whether or not my five rolls of black and white had turned out the way I wanted them and then when I found out and saw that it was better than I had ever expected, it was the most joy and relief…that’s what I love about the analogue and with Japan, it was probably so much more of an experience that way. It shows my experience with Japan, more than digital would.

RG: How do you feel about the pace of using analogue compared to digital?

SG: I think you develop more of a connection with the photographs you take with analogue rather than digital because with digital you do feel like you can just do it there and then. With analogue, even when it’s 35mm and you can take lots of photos and you can change, there’s a sense of wanting to take the pictures than happen to be in your sight, that are there.

There was this case in Japan where there was a woman and her kid, and I’m not used to taking street photographs and you want to be in their face but at the same time you don’t want to be in their way. When you get interested in something and you see it and you think ‘I want to take a photo’, and there was this woman who just had this huge look that said she was lost. I took loads of photos about her and she didn’t even notice me, that was the strange part, and the kid was just mucking about. We were at the station and had time to spare and it was the strangest experience but having the analogue camera actually made it feel more real in the situation to me and analogue feels more physical, whereas digital just feels flatter somehow…

RG: You mentioned using the high ISO film. Was there ever any doubt that you weren’t going to use a film that gave you the grain effect?

SG: It’s like one of my favourite photographers, Daido Moriyama, or someone like that. It just seems to give images an extra texture to what is already visible and there’s something just gritty and nice about it, so I wanted to try it out. The results, I mean, a lot of people haven’t seen half of them because I’m still putting them together but it’s something that gave it my look, how I see Japan. My vision is kind of parallel to the way Moriyama saw it but in my own way, so I think the ISO being high actually helped it. It was amazing to work with, much easier in a way.

RG: I can’t image the images without the grain, it just works so well.

SG: I think that’s why I don’t like the colour so much. I mean, it’s alright, and my digital…

RG: Oh that was my next question! Do you prefer the black and white or colour?

SG: It’s a no-brainer. It’s definitely black and white. There’s something more colourful to the black and white than to the colour somehow. The colour photographs I have on my website, there aren’t very many of them, and they are most of the ones I like. Those are the only ones that work for me and I couldn’t seem to make a whole series with them but the black and white ones; I look at them because the individual photos are all on my bedroom wall. I look at them and I’m seeing them as a project, seeing them still as so much from just that. Colour, there’s something missing from it, like I haven’t developed yet and it was a starting point.

RG: Other than Moriyama, has anyone else inspired you greatly?

SG: The first photographer I ever liked was Man Ray so I suppose that explains my love of black and white, I have always loved black and white. Most recently, I guess because I’m looking at Japan and I’m looking at all the big names of people like Shomei Tomatsu and someone called Eikoh Hosoe who Moriyama assisted in post-war era. There was a woman who had a show at the Tate recently, Miyako Ishuichi, and currently showing at the Foundling Museum too, whose talk I went to at the Japan Foundation in Russell Square. She was talking about memory, how she started off in black and white and things like that. A lot of what she does is diverse; she photographs all sorts of stuff. I like art in general and would take photos of anything if I could so…easily inspired.

RG: Two of your photographs were exhibited in a group show in Margate earlier this year, how did you choose just two from your series and how did you decide on producing a small publication to accompany them?

SG: Basically, I was looking through them all and there were a few I wanted to show and it was the street stuff because that’s the stuff I had that I could say has more structure than any other photograph I took in Japan. I was thinking ‘what are my strongest ones?’ but then I was considering ‘how do I define strong?’ and which I could put together in an exhibition.

I chose ones that I think reflect my time in Japan and the ones that felt like how I felt when I was there, so they aren’t just my experience, but my emotions too. With the woman, I felt a bit lost and with the little girl, I felt like to me, she looked like she was part of the scenery but she wasn’t. Both of them felt a bit disjointed which was again reflecting my mood and it also felt like there was such energy about them which drew me to them and which also drew me away from others.

The publication, it was such a last minute thing, I should have put more time into it but I’ve had it in the back of my head for years, when I first started liking photography but I’ve always been scared of. Everything I’m scared of with photography is a sign for me to try it because it’s normally something that you should, something out of your comfort zone. I really wanted to see how some of the images would look in a small printed publication and I thought, ‘Just do it. Go for it.’ I sold four to strangers and I was so happy. Someone I don’t know actually liked it enough to buy it! It’s given me the confidence to do it again.

RG: It was newpaper-esque. Grainy. Textured.

SG: *nods* It worked and was influenced by how photo books are and with Japanese photography, photo books are the best, magazines and newspapers, that is the output, more so than exhibitions. It’s seen as the output. It was more interesting for me in that sense anyway as I heard that and I looked at things and agreed. I mean, of course I like exhibitions but there is something completely different in the way it’s done, texture etc.

RG: The series being plastered across you room, you must look at them every day. Is there scope for you to continue working with them?

SG: This was initially a personal project, not something I had planned to use for university, but it is going to continue to be a part of my course project and it’s something that I thought about when I took them in April. I live with them, look at them and process them. I still see a project there. I want to go back to Japan and hopefully will be raising funds to do so in the next year. I’m desperate to go back.

RG: How exciting! On to our topical question…With more film types being discontinued, yet Kodak claimed they won’t stop producing film, do you think it is likely or at all possible that we will see a total decline of film photography in our lifetimes?

SG: That’s an interesting question. Erm…I think you could easily say that digital is going to take over, but at the same time, I think it’s an obvious answer, but there are so many people invested in film that they will put their foot in the door and stop it from happening. I don’t think film could ever become extinct as long as there is a passion for film. If I, for instance, become famous in the next ten years, and film is really just going out, I would invest so much money into stopping that from happening. I would do my best, try to advertise and do whatever I could. I’m pretty sure there are people doing that now.

There are people, like Moriyama, who basically just work in film. There are so many people that use it I think you would have to kill a whole generation of people who love film in order for it not to be there. I can’t remember what paper, but there was a paper that went out, well even something as silly as Polaroid; that stopped production and now people are trying to bring it back…

RG: I really enjoy hearing people’s opinions on this topic. Thank you very much for speaking with me; you are a very interesting person and photographer. Don’t forget to look me up in ten years’ time when you’re famous!

Too see Sayuri’s Japan photographs and more of her work visit


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'Just' is a belittling word...

A shutter-pressing, page-turning, ink-scrawling comment.